Tennis: Noszaly puts Britain to the sword: Hungary cast visitors into Davis Cup limbo despite Bates' rearguard action

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The Independent Online
DEFEAT by Hungary here yesterday cast Britain adrift in the Davis Cup, unable to look forward to at least a play-off for a place in the World Group for the first time in the 93-year history of the competition.

The Euro/African Zone tie was alive until the final rubber, only to end in anti-climax and a 3-2 defeat for Britain when Chris Wilkinson was unable to improve upon his debut performance on Friday. The 23-year- old from Southampton was overwhelmed in straight sets by Sandor Noszaly, the tall, strong Hungarian No 2 who had outlasted Jeremy Bates over five sets in the second match of the tie.

Had Bates produced on Friday a display as resilient and resolute as the one he gave yesterday in defeating the Hungarian No 1, Josef Kroschko, 6-4, 7-5,

3-6, 7-6, the result of the tie could have been reversed. The problem is that the 30-year-old Bates remains a one-man band in the British game. Here, for example, he could only rely on Mark Petchey's assistance on percussion in winning Saturday's doubles against Andros Lanyi and Lazlo Markovits, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, to keep the contest breathing.

Bates was magnificent yesterday, defying Kroschko's attempts to take him into a fifth set by breaking the Ukrainian immigrant's serve twice in the fourth set, at 2-5 and 4-5. Wearying by the second, Bates was unable to convert any of four match points on Kroschko's serve at

6-5, but salvaged victory before his legs gave way when his opponent netted a backhand on the fifth match point at 6-4 in the tie-break after three hours and 49 minutes.

'That was probably my best ever Davis Cup match,' Bates said.

Wilkinson looked frail beside Noszaly, a player whose game is based on big-hitting and big- hoping. The Briton was broken when serving for the opening set at 5-3 and thereafter rarely looked likely to produce the much-needed triumph. He fashioned a set point in the third set but could not keep Noszaly from completing the job, 7-5, 6-4, 7-5.

'The people back home and everybody else just have to accept the fact that the players came, played and weren't good enough,' Tony Pickard, the British captain, said. According to the News of the World, Pickard had decided to resign as Britain's captain even before the tie was completed, let alone when his current three-year arrangement with the Lawn Tennis Association is reviewed at the end of the year.

This came as news to the world, and especially to Pickard. Even so, the frustrations of a part-time job in charge of players with whom he is able to work only briefly before matches must be nagging at a coach who enjoys so much success as the mentor of Stefan Edberg.

While there were moments of farce during the tie here, Kroschko and Noszaly proved once more that world rankings are not always an accurate guide to the outcome of Davis Cup contests. Though Ferenc Csepai, the Hungarian captain, may never be as famous as that other Ferenc, the paunchy Puskas, who led the footballers of this nation to a straight-sets win against England in the 1950s,

6-3, 7-1, he has every reason to be proud of a result which puts the team into the draw on 13 May for the World Group qualifying round. Britain will not know their fate until the zonal draws are made in October.

DAVIS CUP EURO-AFRICAN ZONE second round (Budapest): Hungary v Great Britain: Singles: J Bates bt J Kroschko 6-4 7-5 3-6 7-6; S Noszaly (Hun) bt C Wilkinson (GB) 7-5 6-4 7-5. Result: Hungary bt Great Britain 3-2.

Seles leaves hospital, page 21